Abortion rights supporters gathered in Detroit and Ann Arbor were among tens of thousands who rallied across America on Saturday to urge leaders to protect abortion access for all women.
At the University of Michigan campus Diag in Ann Arbor, about 2,000 demonstrators chanted “bans off our bodies” ahead of speeches from Michigan’s top elected officials and Planned Parenthood’s executive director, Nicole Wells Stallworth.
Restricting abortion access would force pregnancies upon people despite their life circumstances in a state “with one of the worst maternal mortality rates for Black women,” Stallworth told the crowd.
“The impact of overturning Roe would be largely felt by Black, Latino, indigenous people, immigrants, people living with low incomes and in rural communities who have already long felt the impact or lack of access to abortion due to the social disparities of the social determinants of health and discrimination that already exists in our health care and criminal justice systems.”
From Pittsburgh to Pasadena, California, and Nashville, Tennessee, to Lubbock, Texas, tens of thousands participated in hundreds of so-called Bans off our Bodies events. Sponsors included the Women’s March, Move On, Planned Parenthood, UltraViolet, MoveOn, SEIU and other organizations.
“If it’s a fight they want, it’s a fight they’ll get,” Rachel Carmona, executive director of the Women’s March, said.
Earlier this month, Politico reported a leaked draft opinion written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito that showed the court is considering overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that constitutionally protects abortion access.
Since then, abortion rights supporters have raised concerns about a potential change in law, including high-ranking Michigan officials such as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow. Whitmer has publicly vowed to protect abortion rights in Michigan, which would be one of 26 states where access would be restricted or banned if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
“We expect every decision maker, every court to make choices that grant us protection and more rights, not take our rights away. That is why our administration is calling on the Michigan Supreme Court to affirm and assert the right to abortion access in Michigan,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said at the Ann Arbor rally, adding that he brought his family.
“The choice to have a child is one of the most fundamental economic choices a person will make. To take that choice away from a woman is to take away her economic freedom and security as well as (her) control over her body,” Gilchrist said.
Polls show that most Americans want to preserve access to abortion — at least in the earlier stages of pregnancy — but the Supreme Court appears to be poised to let the states have the final say.
Stabenow told the Free Press that the push to overturn Roe has been ongoing for nearly 50 years.
“It’s unfortunately all about power. It’s about particular religious beliefs and really, a disrespect for women and our ability to make our own decisions,” Stabenow said. “The real issue is, who makes the decision about a woman’s reproductive health, a bunch of politicians in D.C.? A bunch of Supreme Court justices? Or a woman herself with her faith in her family and her doctor? That’s a fundamental freedom that women have had for 50 years in America.”
Saturday’s rally in Ann Arbor was also met with counterprotesters.
Karen Obidzinski, 68, was among a small crowd of anti-abortion demonstrators who chanted “pro women, pro life” but was quickly surrounded by abortion-rights demonstrators.
“I don’t believe in abortion,” Obidzinski said. “I’d like to ask them, ‘If your mother aborted, you, where would you be? You’d be either in the trash or you wouldn’t be here to protest.’ I’m Catholic, it’s part of religion. I believe in God. They were saying ‘their choice’ and I said ‘God’s choice.” God is the one who makes the decision for all of us.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, told the crowd gathered on the Diag that millions across the state will lose options “because of a near century-old law that should have been repealed 50 years ago.”
“A woman’s health care decision should be made by her, her family, her doctor and her faith if she wants it and no government belongs in that room,” Dingell said. “The House passed the Woman’s Health Protection Act to make Roe the law of the land. But it’s just the beginning of our fight.”
Demonstrator Katie Grossman, 19, a U-M student, said access is necessary to her and others, especially those who may have a medical condition.
“If I had a baby, I would probably die in the process. I’m non-binary and so it’d be very gender-dysphoric for me, as well as the fact that it would be negative to my body as I’ve got a lot of medical issues.” Grossman said. “By repealing Roe v. Wade, we open the door to repealing everything from gay marriage to interracial marriage … You’re taking away my right to marry, my right to control my body, my right to use contraceptives in the bedroom.”
Carrying signs reading “We will not go back,” and “My mom already marched for this,” about 500 protestors gathered in front of the Theodore Levin United States courthouse in Detroit.
“The attack on Roe by Donald Trump’s illegitimate Supreme Court has to be placed in the larger context of the advance of the right,” said Jessica Prozinski of Michigan Coalition for Reproductive Rights, which helped to organize the event.
“They are a minority trying desperately to hold onto power by harnessing white grievance, fear of change and by cloaking themselves and religion. And it’s not just people who have uteruses who are under attack. It’s everyone who doesn’t fit the mold of their narrow idea of how to be a human,” Prozinski said.
Attendees at the Detroit rally ranged in age from 6 months to 93 years old, sporting hats, sunblock and water bottles on the unseasonably warm afternoon. Hannah Malsbury, a junior at Stoney Creek High School in Rochester Hills, attended with three friends who helped her organize a walk-out in support of abortion rights at her school earlier in the week.
“Since we’re under 18 and not able to vote yet, it’s really important to get our voices heard,” she said. “We signed petitions, wrote letters, and this was another step that we wanted to take.”
Demonstrators headed east on West Lafayette and rounded the block toward Woodward Avenue. The group swelled to nearly 1,000 as it marched north on Woodward before stopping at Witherell Street to turn around and head south toward the courthouse.
“Last week, a woman living in a shelter in the metro area tried to take her life. She was pregnant and wanted an abortion, but she thought the leaked draft Alito wrote was in effect, and that abortion was banned,” said Dianne Feeney with the Michigan Coalition for Reproductive Rights.
“Fortunately, she was found and rushed to the hospital where she recovered. She now knows abortion is still legal and is scheduled for the procedure. It’s essential that pregnant individuals understand that not only is abortion legal, but there is a movement to defend their rights.”
Saturday’s rallies came three days after the U.S. Senate was unable to muster enough votes to codify Roe v. Wade.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Dana Afana is the Detroit city hall reporter for the Free Press. Contact Dana: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-635-3491. Follow her on Twitter: @DanaAfana.
Lauren Wethington is a breaking news reporter. You can email her at LGilpin@freepress.com or find her on Twitter at @laurenelizw1.